At Wonkblog this morning, Brad Plumer has an informative and sobering post on the difficulty of predicting tornadoes, and of preparing those in their path to take the right precautions. (He also notes the National Weather Service, our only real asset in dealing with such violent weather events before they happen, is facing significant resources problems thanks to sequestration).
I would guess many readers live in the ever-widening areas of the country where tornadoes are a real if only occasional threat. As it happens, I was in a house hit by a small tornado a while back in the very unlikely location of rural central Virginia. And while no one was injured, the suddenness and violence of the event is almost impossible to convey to anyone who hasn’t live through one (I was looking out the window at a huge, ancient two-trunked tree and saw each trunk snap off and fly away like a toothpick; it was over before I was even able to register fear).
The essential nature of a natural disaster as a cultural and even political phenomenon is something almost unimaginable happening to places and people, sometimes distant, sometimes quite near. The ability to empathize isn’t automatic, even in the case of domestic events, as we saw during Katrina. But as more and more Americans are exposed to violent weather events (as is clearly happening, whether or not one is willing to internalize the fact that greenhouse gas-related “global climate change” means changes in climate everywhere), perhaps the silver lining is that we won’t perceive them as exotic and random “acts of God,” but as disasters affecting our fellow citizens commanding quick and essential public reaction, and where possible, prevention.